It used to be called “alimony” and it was the subject of arguments, headlines and comedians’ jokes. It was almost always paid by the beleaguered ex-husband to the vindictive ex-wife and led to pitched battles that might last for years. These days, however, the greater financial equality between men and women make it just as likely that she will be supporting him post-divorce and the process is now more often referred to as ‘spousal support’ or ‘maintenance’ and generally accomplished with civility and at least a modicum of goodwill.
Several factors are taken into account when spousal support is discussed by opposing divorce lawyers. These include, but are not limited to the length of the marriage, the current and probable future incomes of both parties, as well as their age and health. In states that still take ‘fault’ into account, improper marital behavior can have significant impact on the amount of support awarded. A spouse who has engaged in especially egregious activity might find himself facing a punitive figure, as opposed to one who is divorcing in a no-fault state, where no fingers of blame are pointed and acrimony is not an expected part of the proceedings.
Property ownership is often a large part of a divorce case. Courts aim for equitable distribution of assets which may or may not impact the award of spousal support. If the division of property leaves an ex-spouse fairly well off, alimony may be adjusted down accordingly.
Health is another major consideration. Divorce courts don’t want to leave either partner indigent, and if one is not able to be self-supporting, due to chronic poor health, they may be entitled to more than basic support, with mandatory health insurance included in the alimony package.
Most judges aim for fairness in the allocation of spousal support. The point is to help maintain the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage, so many aspects are weighed, such as the length of time support will be needed. In the case of termination of a long-term marriage during which the wife was not employed outside the home, lifetime alimony might be awarded, although some jurisdictions are now looking at ways to eliminate lifetime alimony awards. On the other hand, a spouse who has job skills and some experience may only need maintenance for a few months, while re-settling and finding or returning to work. Whatever the case, a competent divorce lawyer is the best insurance for equitable disbursement of spousal support.